You’re no longer alive so it might take a bit for this letter to reach you, but since it’s something I’ve been meaning to write for nearly sixty years I thought I’d best get at it.
You were the best first grade teacher I ever had. Okay, you were also the only first grade teacher, but it was tougher back then since kindergarten hadn’t come to Pike County yet and you had to be the first one to break us into the public school system. Bottom line: you did well.
I remember your bravery. We’d have these atomic blast drills when you’d instruct us to get under our desk and cover our heads. You’d be pleased to know that I have never had my head blown off by an atomic bomb and I credit you for this. You impressed me with your bravery because when we got under our desk to avoid the radiation, you stayed standing to make sure that no one got loose. This was pretty cool. I figured out later that you probably couldn’t have crawled under your desk if you wanted to, but I still count it as a mark of courage on your part. Thanks to you I am pretty much radiation free.
You also taught me about forgiveness. Each week I dutifully wrote out the ten spelling words that we had to learn, cut the paper down to just a sliver and stuck it between my legs for reference during the spelling test. One day you came along and noticed that I was getting my answers from between my knees. You asked me if I had ever done this before and I lied and said, “No.” Actually, I’d been doing it all year and I’m pretty sure you knew that, but you took my cheat sheet and let it go at that. I never copied a paper or cheated on a test for the rest of my life. It was a great relief to 35 years’ worth of Triopia Language Arts students to know that their teacher once had trouble with the language. . . and I became the school’s expert on catching cheaters.
While we’re on the subject of words I want to thank you for teaching me the alphabet. We lined up for lunch alphabetically, we went to recess alphabetically and I think we may have peed according to our place in the alphabet. We I had to go really bad I was thankful that my last name began with a “B.”
You taught me about mercy. I think I was about the worst softball player in the class and so you let me be a captain and choose my own team knowing that I would be among the last chosen. The girls were the best hitters and fielders in first grade so you gave us an early lesson in equal opportunity while you were at it.
You taught me to like cottage cheese. Okay, not exactly to like it but to eat it. I knew that you would patrol our little class during the lunch period and if I didn’t eat my little curds I wouldn’t get to go out and play. I liked to play. I still do. Good incentive, Mrs. Walker.
I want to thank you for teaching me patience. You had us plant a little bean in a plastic cup and then wait for it to grow. This is very hard for a first grader. When you plant the bean at ten in the morning you expect to see a fully flowered plant by the time school’s out. Every morning we’d rush into your room to see if the little bugger had sprouted and whenever you left the room we secretly watered our beans again even though you warned us that over-watering would be disastrous. It was. My bean was the last to come up and when it did it was a sickly yellow and soon died a silent death. I think that my friend Gary may have peed on it . . . at least the other kids said he did . . . but still, you taught me to be patient.
You may have also saved my life, Mrs. Walker. I lived only two blocks from the school but between our house and Perry Grade School were two vicious little terrier dogs that just scared the wadding out of me. You were often kind enough to take me home and avoid a horrible mauling.
Of course no one can achieve complete perfection, not even a teacher. My handwriting is still awful and math completely confounds me, but I don’t blame you for this. And I still don’t much care for cottage cheese but I’ve gone these past sixty years avoiding a nuclear blast.
One more thing. . . you were kind. After teaching kids myself for forty years now, I realize that kindness is the most needed subject in our school system but since the government has no way to test it then we don’t spend a great deal of time on the subject past elementary school. I’m glad I had you for a teacher.